Sask. Children's Advocate critical of mental health care after family ordeal

When it comes to mental health care, the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth says he knows from personal experience that the province must do better. Child advocate advised to take child to private Alberta facility for mental health treatment

'It's not the first time we've been waiting,' says Children's Advocate

Saskatchewan's Advocate for Children and Youth Corey O'Soup says the province needs to take action to ensure better mental health care services for youth. (CBC News)

The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth says he knows from personal experience that the province must do better when it comes to mental health care.

On Saturday, Corey O'Soup tweeted that he spent more than ten hours in the emergency room waiting with one of his children who struggles with mental health issues. According to O'Soup, he was eventually told his best option would be to take his child to a private facility in Alberta.

"It's not the first time we've been waiting, and it's not the first time I've seen other families waiting with the same situations," said O'Soup.

O'Soup said the suggestion to take his child to a private facility in Alberta caused his frustration to boil over. He said most children who need the services would not be able to afford a private clinic.

A representative with Saskatchewan's ministry of health responded in an e-mail to CBC, writing that the majority of mental health concerns can be managed within the province.

Ministry responds

"We are not aware of any significant difference in public mental health services and resources between Alberta and Saskatchewan," said the ministry representative.

But O'Soup said he wanted to turn his frustration into action.

"I had to think of all the other families and all the other children that go through what I just went through, and understanding that not all of these kids have an advocate like me as a parent, and also the provincial advocate that can stand up for them and can actually go and challenge the system to do better for them," said O'Soup.

O'Soup's comments come after his office released a report on youth suicides in the province's north. According to that report, nearly half of the young people who died of suicide in Saskatchewan over the past five years were Indigenous.

"When a child comes with mental health issues, we ask them to wait," said O'Soup, pointing out that there is a two-year wait list to see a child psychiatrist in the province.

"As they're waiting, they're literally dying as they wait and I think we've had enough of that."

A representative with the province's ministry of health said the majority of youth with very severe mental health issues are seen within 24 hours.

The Ministry of Health said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is constructing a mental health assessment unit at Royal University Hospital, which will be a space within the emergency department. Construction is set to be complete by spring. 

"The unit will provide patients a quiet, calming space away from the environmental stressors of the emergency department," said the ministry representative in an e-mail.


Joelle Seal is an Associate Producer in Current Affairs for CBC Saskatchewan. Get in touch with her by emailing or on Twitter @joelleseal.

With files from CBC Radio One's Saskatoon Morning